Time once again for me to express sincere dismay over the musical taste of the general public.
In this case, I’m appalled by the results of the poll run by SiriusXM’s “40s Junction” a couple of months ago. The intent was to put together a Top 100 songs of the World War Two era. Voting was in March from a predetermined list–although voters could apparently add their own nominations–and the results were unveiled over the Fourth of July weekend in the form of a broadcast of all 100 tracks.
Oddly, though the show aired several times that weekend, the final list was never published anywhere I’ve been able to find. My thanks to the anonymous SiriusXM staffer who sent it to me. I’m not sure about the legalities of posting it here–the email didn’t state that it would be okay. If I’d compiled it myself from the broadcasts, I’d be on solid ground, but since it’s someone else’s work, I’d just as soon not risk a copyright violation. (Capitalization of the titles is as in the document I received. I’da done it different, but I’m bowing to authority here.)
But I can certainly call out a few of the most egregious lowlights. That’s unquestionably fair use.
And, if we’re talking “low”, where better to start than at the very bottom of the list?
Number 100 is “As Time Goes By”. Yes, the Dooley Wilson recording. The definitive version of an acknowledged classic. Mind you, I have issues with it. It’s sexist and, IMNSHO, unduly conflates love and hate. But regardless, a great song. There are a lot of amazingly good recordings from the early Forties, but for this one to land all the way down at Number 100, there had to have been a lot of truly astounding music, right?
Like Number 99. Which is, uh…”Johnny Zero”, a nearly forgotten piece of tripe about a student with crippling math anxiety–possibly a learning disorder–which forces him to drop out of school and become a wildly successful fighter pilot.
Other classics that came in ahead of Dooley include “Happy Holiday” (93), “Personality*” (87), and “I Said No!**” (89)
* An annoyingly popular ditty that’s sexist and condescending.
** But still better than this one, which–depending on how literally you take the last line–is either an account of date rape or an early precursor to Amway (1959) sales tactics.
So much for that theory. Compounding the injustice? Rudy Vallee’s version landed at Number 27.
Moving on up. Or down, as the case may be.
I’ll skip past “Flying Home” (Lionel Hampton at 97) and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” (Dinah Shore at 84). But how in all that’s unholy did the incredibly sexist and racist ditty “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief” make it all the way up to Number 61? All due respect to composer Hoagy Carmichael, but this isn’t his best work. Not even close.
A similar offense against good taste has the culturally insensitive (not to mention pointless and obnoxious) earworm “The Hut-Sut Song” at Number 44. At least it got beat by the slightly less offensive and much funnier “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (41) and “Tangerine” (37).
I’m not fond of “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”, but I don’t have any actual problem with it. I can live with it coming in at Number 25, though I am glad to see it’s Glenn Miller’s version and not the slightly disturbed Andrews Sisters recording.
In the context of their time “Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer” (24), “When The Lights Go On Again” (16) and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (6) are reasonably positioned. It does bother me to see them so far up nearly a century later. Musically, none are anything astounding, but they’re more than adequate. The sentiments are appropriate for wartime, but it’s depressing to think they still resonate now.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my feelings about “On the Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe” (18), “Swinging On A Star” (13), and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” (5). Despite negative comments I might have made about them, they’re all worthy of inclusion on this list. I might not have put them quite this high, but no significant objection.
Likewise, it’s great to see the Mills Brothers put three songs on the list, including two in the top twenty. If I ruled the world (a depressing thought), I’d have put “You Always Hurt The One You Love” (17) higher than “Paper Doll” (7), but that’s a quibble.
And if you think “Johnny Zero” making the top 100 is puzzling, try rationalizing “G.I. Jive” cracking the top ten. It’s at Number 9, just ahead of Frank Sinatra’s “You’ll Never Know”. Frankie making the upper reaches of the list, sure. But an unabashed novelty song?
Then there’s Number 4. “Rum And Coca-Cola“. Catchy tune. Wildly popular. But the themes (American imperialism and prostitution) and the Andrews Sisters’ somewhat disingenuous comments about it make it hard for me to see it as worthy of it’s position near the top of the list.
Weird to see a Christmas song near the top of the list, but I can’t think of a single reason why Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” shouldn’t be here. If anything, I’m surprised it didn’t make Number 1, given the general public’s fondness for sentiment.
Top honors went to “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, which just beat out “Sentimental Journey”. Train songs are popular, it would seem, as are paens to revisiting one’s past. But while both are worthy of high places in the rankings, do they really belong all the way at the top?
Great blogicle. I’m sure that you looked at the context of the time and the war. When I hear R&B of the 1950s, there’s even more misogeny (remember Prince Buster?) and a modicum of shooting a disloyal spouse. (Where was “The Way You Look Tonight”?) I always take the term “top 100” with a grain of MSG–how in the world do you rank anything in such an order? Even favorites change. But thanks for this goodie!
Oh, unquestionably. But for a “best of” list, the original context is only part of the equation. How well it stands up to the passage of time is important too. And the amount of casual sexism, racism, and other isms that people are willing to overlook gets depressing.
“The Way You Look Tonight” isn’t on the list, since the original Fred Astaire recording came out in 1936. The Benny Goodman/Peggy Lee cover could have qualified, but apparently didn’t make the cut.